Verse 1: 'I love a little country queen, a village beauty rare, / With rosy cheeks, white pearly teeth and lovely nut-brown air; / Her waist is so slender, and her feet are so small, / Of all the girls I ever loved, my Nelly beats them all.'
Set in a rural idyll in the English county of Kent, this romantic and pastoral ballad tells of a young man's love for his sweetheart, the village beauty, Nelly Ray. The narrator tells of how he immediately fell head over heels in love with Nelly, upon seeing her driving the cattle home to the farmhouse. Happily betrothed to her by the closing verse, the narrator puns her surname with a ray of sunshine, to emphasise the degree of his happiness.
Early ballads were dramatic or humorous narrative songs derived from folk culture that predated printing. Originally perpetuated by word of mouth, many ballads survive because they were recorded on broadsides. Musical notation was rarely printed, as tunes were usually established favourites. The term 'ballad' eventually applied more broadly to any kind of topical or popular verse.
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